Trump Tweets: The Movies

Stipulated: the ethics position here has been since long before the Trump years that Presidents should keep their opinions of persons, places, things and events having nothing to do with their duties or responsibilities to themselves.

Presidents are not kings, nor popes, nor universal authorities on everything. They have a role to fill, and they should fill it; it’s not like there should be plenty of time left over for weighing in on such matters as sports, popular culture, celebrities, and local controversies.

President Obama did far more of this than was responsible or good for the country, notably during race-related controversies. President Trump, obviously, has taken this misuse of his position into the stratosphere with his addiction to Twitter. His unrestrained tweets have done him at least as much harm as good; my own guess is that if he eschewed social media, his approval ratings would be 10% higher than they are.

It is also, I think, beyond argument that Trump’s use of Twitter guarantees that future Presidents will also use it to opine on matters that are none of their business. This is not a good thing.

The President’s latest self-made controversy, actually two controversies, came when he tweeted in part last week,

“How bad were the Academy Awards this year? Did you see? And the winner is: a movie from South Korea. What the hell was that all about? We’ve got enough problems with South Korea, with trade. On top of it, they give them the best movie of the year? Was it good? I don’t know? I’m looking for — where? — can we get ‘Gone with the Wind’ back please? ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ So many great movies. The winner is: from South Korea. I thought it was Best Foreign Film. Best Foreign Movie. No. Has this ever happened before? …”

And then he went off on Brad Pitt’s gratuitous crack about John Bolton.

Naturally South Korea was annoyed, and there is no reason in the world to insult an ally over a movie. The President was right, but that’s irrelevant. It is ridiculous to have a best Foreign Film category and then allow a foreign film to win that and the Best Picture Oscar. The Academy Awards are a celebration of U.S. movie-making. I suspect “Parasite” was a political choice because of the film’s class warfare theme.

I saw it; the film was excellent in all respects, but I would never watch it a second time. The film should not have taken the Best Film Oscar from the Hollywood nominees, both on principle and because, at least in my view, several of the other nominated films were better.

The larger controversy over Trump’s tweetstorm about the Oscars came as a result of his choice of “Gone With The Wind” as a classic and preferred model over current day movies. Later this week, at a campaign rally, he clarified what he meant, saying, “What I say is: Make great movies. Not this computerized crap. Computerized garbage.”

That comment is essentially what director Martin Scorcese said earlier this year when he complained about superhero movies. The difference is that Scorcese has standing to opine about the art of movie-making, and the President of the United States does not. But his pointing to “Gone With The Wind” was so predictably provocative that some have wondered if he didn’t use it deliberately to trigger the political correctness police. (I doubt it.)

When I read that tweet, I thought, “Okay, when the inevitable race-baiting comes from the usual suspects, you’re going to have to write about this.” Sure enough, professional race-baiter  Michael Eric Dyson went on “The View” to say that Trump’s appreciation of the 1939 classic was more proof of racism,  as the ladies on the panel nodded and clucked. The Washington Post was among those in the Trump Deranged media that couldn’t resist weighing in, trotting out historians to tell us that the film was a false representation of the Confederacy, as if that matters in a film or a romantic novel that never pretended to have historical accuracy as its goal.

In fact, because this criticism is such a contrived double standard, let me rant a bit before going back to the film itself.

I have written here frequently about how unethical it is for films that present themselves as historically valid to misrepresent material events and personalities. Such films as “Titanic,” “The Alamo,” “JFK,” “13 Days,” “King,” and “Lincoln” breached this standard, and in my view, recklessly and without justification. In films and stage productions that make it clear, however, that their objective isn’t accurate history but something else (in the case of “Gone With The Wind,” a tale of a fictional romance and an indomitable heroine against the backdrop of the Civil War), critics and historians, except for incurable pedants, keep their cavils to themselves, as they should.

It’s not easy sometimes. I know a lot about Presidential assassinations and assassination attempts, and much as I admire the works of Stephen Sondheim, I can’t stand “Assassins” because it is such terrible history. I was reminded of this today, when “The Ballad of Booth” from that musical was played on the Sirius Broadway channel. The song suggests that there is some great mystery over why John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln. “Was it bad reviews?” the balladeer asks.  Booth wasn’t having some kind of psychic break, or shooting Lincoln to compensate for his inability to match his more successful actor brother Edwin. He was dedicated to the cause of the South, and blamed Lincoln, not unreasonably, for the war. Booth regarded his attack on Lincoln (and, in his plan, Vice President Johnson, Secretary of State Seward and General Grant) as  part of the war effort, to save the Confederacy. The song and the show pretend that Booth was just another crazy like Charles Guiteau or Squeaky Fromme, and that’s completely false. It also states that Booth was the first one to try to kill a President, and that’s also false.

For the purposes of the musical. however, it doesn’t matter. Oh, it matters to me, but that’s my problem, not Sondheim’s. And anyone who gets their history from  Broadway musicals has only himself or herself to blame.It’s the equivalent of getting your news from Comedy Central. And who would do that?

Rant over.

Last I checked, “Gone With The Wind” ranked #4 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Films. That was a while ago; I’m sure it’s been knocked down a few notches since then, but it’s a magnificent movie that tells a fictional story using the viewpoint of characters living in the South before, during, and after the Civil War.  No doubt about it, this is a story about a racist society, but racism is not extolled in the movie (unlike another film in the Top 100, “Birth of a Nation,”) nor should the artistic decision to portray the fictionalized world of Margaret Mitchell’s epic romance detract from the film’s many pleasures. Among them is one of the great performances of all time by an African-American actress, Hattie McDaniel’s “Mammy.” In this supposedly racist movie, the smartest, most sensitive, most admirable character is a black woman.

Of course, there is much more to enjoy in David O. Selznick’s dream project: the immortal portrayal of Mitchell’s infuriating, irresistible and protofeminist heroine by Vivian Leigh (and her eyebrow), Clark Gable giving the performance of his career, which considering that career, is something to cherish; the great Thomas Mitchell being great, as always;  young Olivia de Havilland ingeniously making a character too good to be true seem believable anyway, deft direction by Victor Fleming (in the same year he directed “The Wizard of Oz”), and gorgeous production values throughout. Being unable to watch a film as important to film and cultural history that is so entertaining in the bargain because one’s need to find racism in every nook and cranny of our past is a malady. In the case of President Trump’s endorsement, the reflex attack on “Gone With The Wind” is just one more manifestation of BIg Lie #4, “Trump is a Racist.”

President Trump admires the movie because it’s a great movie. So do I. So do a majority of film scholars who haven’t allowed progressive bullying and agenda-driven cant to smother their integrity. As for those “resistance” members who feel they have to take every opportunity to bash President Trump no matter how trivial or artificial the offense, I fully endorse what I am certain the President’s reaction is to the outrage of Whoopie and the rest…

20 thoughts on “Trump Tweets: The Movies

  1. The fact Trump thinks people care about what Trump thinks about the Oscars is the most discouraging part of this story. Just because you can say things from your pulpit doesn’t mean you should. He needs to learn the difference and his proper role as President.

  2. I saw it; the film was excellent in all respects, but I would never watch it a second time.

    If a film is excellent, wouldn’t that mean that one would want to watch it many times? Isn’t that part of what *excellent* means?

    We only watched about half of it and then turned it off.

    I did not like the entire premise of corrupt people, a corrupt and collusive family of grifters, working their con-game. Although I might give it another chance, and maybe we judged it too harshly, I am uncertain why this film should win the best picture.

    What is your opinion of A Canterbury Tale? That’s what we ended up watching (again).

    • The movie’s entertainment value depends on surprise throughout. Once one knows the twists, it’s just a grim and cynical story about people who think they are entitled to destroy a nice family whose crime is that they are rich.

      • Funnily enough, the director has pretty explicitly said that you’re not meant to see the rich family as villains either, just people who’ve been too isolated from how “normal” folk live.

        Remember, Bong Joon-ho came of age when South Korea was just beginning the transition to a democratic government, an era where pretty much all of the country’s business elite had strong ties to military dictators, and the chaebol (basically SK’s megacorps) still have a reputation for being highly corrupt (to the point where pretty much every chaebol has had at least one chairman sentenced to jail just this millennium, though most have ended up being pardoned for political reasons soon after).

    • No, you didn’t judge it too harshly. You judged it wrongly. If you haven’t seen the film (or read the book, or visited the country, etc.), keep your half-baked opinion to yourself, please. And there are many reasons not to want to see a film twice, even if you would praise it for its excellence in all respects . . . but you have to see it at least once.

      • My dear and very erudite fellow, I would request that you remove the thorn that is poking you in your derrière. 🙂

        I did see the film. Myself and my household watched it. We watched it till approximately the half-way point and then we opted to stop watching it. It is still sitting there.

        What we chose to watch instead — we only have so many opportunities to be all together — is A Canterbury Tale. A very wonderful film.

        The Guardian described Parasite:

        “Parasite review – a gasp-inducing masterpiece.”

        “It’s a tragicomic masterclass that will get under your skin and eat away at your cinematic soul.”

        “Parasite really is the kind of remarkable experience that makes modern movie-going such a joy. I saw it for the fourth time last week and I’m now desperate to view the black-and-white version that Bong recently unveiled at the Rotterdam film festival.”

        Apparently it didn’t work its magic on me nor on us. We must really be sunken people!

        My argument is against the premise of the film and is based in principle & definition. While I can admire an unprincipled film and unprincipled general premises up to a point (Pulp Fiction is the best example) I am forced because of a focus on principle to take issue with the film Parasite.

        That it won the best picture award, and that it is praised universally by unprincipled people, in an unprincipled general environment, trending toward the unprincipled and indeed encouraging it as well as the deviant in all areas, is an alarm-bell of sorts to me.

        Pay attention to what they *love* and what they consider a ‘remarkable experience’, and then carefully examine the questionable predicates that infuse their lemming-like opinions. You see I do not resect them (generally speaking) and I definitely question and challenge their general, corrupted predicates. And as I hope you can understand my criticism of Parasite fits into a larger critique.

        I saw Parasite as a rather ugly portrayal of impoverished people. It celebrates (though I detest that word) corruption on all levels. There was no action or attitude or stance in any of these personages that I could admire. Therefore, you see, I cannot greatly admire what they did nor the way that they sell themselves out. I could admire the filmmaking or other artistic elements, true, but if a film does not inspire me at the level of principle I cannot admire it nor consider it a ‘remarkable experience’. It turned out to be a waste of time.

        I don’t think I have watched any other Korean films except Secret Sunshine and Poetry by Lee Joon-dong. Parasite in comparison is a rotten bit of feces.

        Is is making any more sense to you?

        • Yes. Your as-I-said half-baked opinion still holds. The film rings all sorts of changes we have seldom (perhaps never in one place) experienced in a movie before – in tone, in genre, in pacing, and in other forms. Your kind of criticism is expressed best as an example of Kipling’s “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”

          • Fully-baked! But to you unpalatable is I think a more precise way to put it.

            Were we to explore our differences we would find entirely different value-platforms.

            Elephants . . . or no elephants!

  3. Why doesn’t Trump have standing to criticize “Parasite” and/or computer generated movies? He has just as much right to do so as you or me (I?). Is it because he shouldn’t weigh un on cultural issues as President? Trump, just like every other President, has done so, and if anything Trump understands culture – not the lofty things the glitterati discuss betwixt themselves while ridiculing the shameful rubes and peasants, but where the culture is and prevaiing trends. If Trump has coee values, it is “put US national interests first.” Isn’t that his job?

    The outrage is stupid and unfair, but anything he does is stupid and unfair. If he declared that he loved hamburgers the outrage would be that only privileged white boys can eat hamburgers. Dyson is an idiot and the dolts on The View are, well, dolts. Rep. Matt Gaetz put them in their places because they are not used to people pushing back against them. As for “Gone,” I would ask them if they watched the movie. If they hadn’t, my response would be to go watch it then report back. Otherwise, refrain from saying stupid and unfair things.


    • Of course he has a right, but because he is the nation’s leader, such pronouncements appear to be edicts from on high about what is right and wrong, good and bad. It’s a an abuse of position, just as inappropriate as Obama weighing in on the cop and the African American professor in Cambridge, or Trayvon Martin, or Trump’s interference in the NFL kneeling spectacle. It resonates like a leader dictating taste.

  4. I’ve gone to the conclusion that Trump has the Midas touch. Err… Make that the racist touch.

    Three years ago, there was a straight week of news about the formerly beloved children’s book author being racist, due to some par for the course depictions of people from different backgrounds found in a tiny portion of his artwork. What sparked this? The first lady’s gift of Seuss books to a library.

    Just the other day, I came across many of Seuss’ WWII cartoons, and it’s very clear to me that the media lied to me.

  5. Not to beat a dead horse, but the first half of GWTW is simply magnificent. It’s one of the most stirring anti-war films ever made, and that it was made at the brink of WWII is all the more remarkable.

    The second half is more soap-opera, but still good.

  6. I think what complicates the line between “foreign” and “non-foreign” films at the Oscars is the presence of British and Commonwealth films in the mainline categories. I know why they’re allowed according to the rules, but honestly, if the Oscars are a celebration of American filmmaking, be consistent (I mean, the Brits already have their own film fests, even if BAFTA is currently just a pseudo-Oscars in terms of its nominees)! Also, I *really* liked Parasite, but I do laugh a bit at the thought that it won an Oscar and not any of, say, Kurosawa’s films (or various other worthy non-English films that have come out in just the last half-decade).

  7. While Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar for GWTW, are you aware that she could not attend the premiere as it was held in a white’s only theatre? In addition, during the Academy Awards, she had to sit at a segregated table and could not be with her fellow cast mates. So it can certainly be argued that the movie was or wasn’t racist, it can’t be argued that America was not.

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